Here are the approximate tracks of Mingming's voyages 2006 - 2011
MINGMING'S VOYAGE 2011
Left Whitehills harbour on the Moray Firth at 1700H on Thursday 23rd June. Sailed north through the Fair Isle Channel, heading first for Jan Mayen. We crossed the Arctic Circle a week later. A few hours after crossing into the Arctic the stitching in two seams on the third panel started to fail, no doubt as a result of chafe against the topping lifts. One of the seams was in a very difficult position to repair so I dispensed with that panel entirely, lashing two battens together. We had covered c.550 nautical miles at the time and so sailed the remainder of the 3000 mile voyage minus one panel. This probably disadvantaged us a little in the extremely light airs we were to encounter further north.
Mingming at Whitehills prior to our voyage.
We met our first period of very calm weather about 80 miles south of Jan Mayen, with six days of virtually no wind. On Monday July 4th, just after midday, 65 miles south-south-east of the South Cape of Jan Mayen, a yacht, motor sailing, overtook us about a mile on our starboard beam. We reached Jan Mayen on July 7th, after two weeks at sea. As last time, had a fantastic day sailing up the east coast. I had a proper chart of the island this time, so was able to go in a lot closer. Unfortunately Mt Beerenberg, the 7000' volcano, was once again under cloud cover, so I did not see the summit.
Misty morning off Jan Mayen.
The headland Eggoya, central Jan Mayen.
Headed north-east from Jan Mayen, bound for Spitsbergen. Two days later a northerly gale knocked us down quite badly. I was in my bunk at the time and felt the mast go way beyond the horizontal. A lot of chaos inside, but the only damage was bent framing on the spray hood.
We made our landfall at Spitsbergen, at Prinz Karls Forland on the north-west coast, on Wednesday 20th July, after 26 days at sea. Sailed north up the coast, making sure to keep beyond the 12-mile limit (the regulations for yachts sailing in Svalbard waters are draconian). Fantastic views of the Spitsbergen mountains, stretching to Albert 1 Land in the north. At one point I counted 73 peaks. Several times encountered relatively (for these days) large concentrations of whales along the continental shelf, mainly fin, with some humpback, minke and at least one sei whale. This surfaced very close and I was able to identify it from the photos I took.
Landfall at Spitsbergen.
Becalmed off Prinz Karls Forland, Spitsbergen.
Glassy calm off Spitsbergen.
I carried on north, hoping for the right wind to make a dart for 80°N. Had to be careful here, as there would have been ice to the west and north, and land and ice to the east: a potentially awkward trap. After some concern with a hard blow from the south-west, the wind settled at west-north-west, giving me the perfect angle to sail quickly north, then south again.
Reached 80°N at midday on Sunday July 24th, after just less than 31 days at sea and nearly 1600 miles of sailing.
The mother of all noon positions.
2am calm in the high Arctic.
Turned immediately south and began the long haul home. I had intended to sail a westerly route, using the East Greenland current, and giving us another look at Jan Mayen. However a week of south-westerly headwinds put paid to that, forcing me to sail the direct route home, and putting us into the north-going North Atlantic current. Eleven days of strong northerlies helped break the back of the return leg, bringing us to within striking distance of Viking. The weather then turned very sour, with a constant mix of calms and headwinds. As we approached the Shetlands the weather systems became increasingly unstable, with depressions springing up all round and following unusual tracks. Finally got to within 20-30 miles of Whitehills and were once more becalmed. I was very concerned, as the forecast was for extremely strong northerly winds - not what you want when approaching the south coast of the Moray Firth. A fortuitous mix of a light easterly followed by a moderate north-westerly enabled us to cover the last few miles and get safely into harbour before the storm struck. Within less than a day of tying up in Whitehills it was blowing Force 9 to 10 straight onshore.
Hitch-hiker 150 miles west of Norway - juvenile white wagtail.
The entrance to Whitehills Harbour 24 hours after our arrival.
The voyage took 65 days (31 days out, 34 days back) and we logged just over 3000 nautical miles. This was an interesting contrast to last year's voyage to west Greenland, in which we covered over 4000 miles in about the same time. Mingming has now sailed nearly 20,000 miles in six years, mainly in high latitudes. I am now thinking seriously about giving her a well-earned rest.
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MINGMING'S VOYAGE 2010
No ice or dramatic coastlines this year. Took our departure from Bishop Rock on May 25th, two days after leaving Plymouth, and arrived back at Bishop Rock 62 days later. During those 62 days we were never close to land and saw less than six other vessels. For one period in the north-west Atlantic, Labrador Sea and Davis Strait we went 34 days without seeing any ships.
The voyage had two objectives: firstly to get to the west of Greenland, and secondly, if conditions allowed, to penetrate the Davis Strait as far as the Arctic Circle. For the outward leg I went north fairly quickly, then ran west between 55°N and 57°N. In theory this is far enough north to get the easterly air flows of the depressions, and far enough south to avoid the severe storms and sea ice associated with Cape Farewell, Greenland's southern tip. This worked pretty well. We of course had plenty of heavy weather, but you cannot expect anything less at those latitudes at any time of year. Once well to the south-west of Cape Farewell I then shaped a course to run north-west through the Labrador Sea and into the Davis Strait.
Heavy weather, mid-Atlantic.
A south-easterly gale which started on June 24th built for a day and a half. We were running before it quite comfortably under bare poles. At 0015H on the morning of June 26th, at which point we were about 130 miles west of Cape Desolation on the west Greenland coast, a rogue wave caught us on the wrong quarter, gybing us round and then putting Mingming on her beam ends. I had been dozing on the safe, downhill side of the boat. The gybe moved me to the uphill side, and as we went over I was flipped over onto my back and thrown across the cabin, catching my right side against the corner of the chart table. I did not realise immediately that I had injured myself. My first concern was for my back, which had been wrenched during this short haul flight and awkward landing. It was only a few minutes later, when I was getting us back on the correct heading, and had to reach for a steering line with my right hand, that I heard, as much as felt, a loud 'click' from my right rib cage - the click of two pieces of displaced bone slotting themselves back together again.
Heavy weather, Labrador Sea.
After a great deal of thought I decided that it wasn't a good idea to keep on north up the Davis Strait. I had no idea of the extent to which a broken rib might incapacitate me. I certainly did not want to be coping with dangerous ice conditions when physically hampered. The first objective of the voyage had been fulfilled; I would have to settle for that. The storm came off over the next 12 hours, and at midday on June 26th, after 34 days at sea, I reluctantly turned for home. At that point we were in 60° 42'N 53° 29'W.
The turning point of the voyage.
The return leg was a kind of inversion of the outward route. This time I headed south-east quickly, to get myself to 50°N and then run down my easting directly to the Lizard. I hit 50°N round about 28°W, and had an almost unbroken run of following westerly weather, and the benefit of the North Atlantic Current, to drive us home. I brought Mingming into Plymouth at 0830H on 29th July, after 67 days at sea.
Mingming back at Plymouth after 67 days at sea.
Mingming back at Plymouth after 67 days at sea.
As someone with a fanatical interest in pelagic wildlife, and a lifelong ornithologist, the highlight of the voyage came at 1010H on Tuesday 13th July, when we had a very close encounter with, of all things, a black-browed albatross. Albatrosses are of course extremely rare in the northern hemisphere. As I was in bird photographer mode, brought on by many weeks spent in the wintering grounds of another southern hemisphere breeder, the great shearwater, I was quick enough to take four shots of the albatross, despite the whole encounter lasing not more than forty seconds. I now have a photograph I will treasure for the rest of my life - Mingming and an albatross in the same frame. Absolutely amazing. The black-browed albatross, by the way, has an 8 foot-plus wing span.
Mingming meets a black-browed albatross.
The statistics for the voyage are as follows. For the outward leg the noon-to-noon (straight-line) distances totalled 1995 miles, covered in 34 days at an average of 59 miles a day. The return leg totalled 2090 miles in 33 days at an average of 64 miles per day. Worst day was 10 miles (no wind), best was 100 miles (twice). Total distance sailed was therefore 4085 miles at an average of 61 miles per day. Mingming and I have now covered about 16,000 ocean miles.
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MINGMING'S NORTHERN VOYAGE 2009
Left Whitehills Harbour on the Moray Firth, northern Scotland, at high water, 0200H on Friday 26th June. Ran up through the Fair Isle Channel, past Fair Isle, then outside Foula, the westernmost Shetland island. With settled weather from the east, though with occasional calms, I was able to lay down an almost straight track to Jan Mayen, which we reached 121/2 days later, on Wednesday 8th July. The highlights of the leg to Jan Mayen were two encounters with pods of killer whales, and a close shave with a Russian factory trawler, the Armanek Begayev, of Kaliningrad, which we met just inside the Arctic Circle. We had crossed the Arctic Circle, 66 33N, at about 0800H on Saturday 4th July, 8 days after leaving Whitehills.
The mountains of south Jan Mayen
Sailing north-east along the base of Mt Beerenberg, Jan Mayen.
Spent two days close inshore at Jan Mayen, the first sailing up the east coast, the second becalmed off the north east end of the island. The scenery was magnificent, the only disappointment being that Mt Beerenberg, the 7000' volcano that dominates the north end of the island, was permanently shrouded in cloud.
Sailing north-east along the base of Mt Beerenberg, Jan Mayen.
A proud moment as we reach 72N.
As we approach the Greenland coast ice floes start to appear.
From the North Cape of Jan Mayen I sailed on due north, partly out of necessity (we had a brief north westerly wind) and partly from choice as I wanted to reach 72N before turning west towards the Greenland coast. This we did at 1840H on Friday 10th July. Then headed west towards the East Greenland coast, in search of ice, meeting our first floes on the late afternoon of Sunday 12th July. Spent about 24 hours in sea ice of low density, but towards 2300H on the evening of Monday 13th July, about 80 miles east of Scoresby Sound, began to encounter small bergs and bergy bits in dangerous concentrations. After a small bergy bit had wedged itself under the starboard quarter for a few seconds I decided that we had seen enough of what we had come to see, and started to retreat rapidly east. This was none too soon, as a few minutes later I could see a line of unbroken pack ice to the south, directly to leeward. Having got clear of the ice I sailed south east to get out of the East Greenland Current and away from any stray bergs or floes.
Amongst bigger bergs and bergy bits.
Horn, one of the headlands of north-west Iceland.
Entering Adalvik, Iceland's most north-westerly bay.
Leaving Adalvik, with the headland Ritur to starboard.
Close-up of the headland Ritur, showing the amazing geology.
Looking south down Iceland's west coast, along the headlands of the Vestfirdir, the western fjords.
At this point I was undecided whether to go south via the east coast of Iceland, or to carry on with the third objective of the voyage - a passage through the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. Finally decided to go for the latter, so shaped a course south west to take us to the north west headland of Iceland, Stromnes. We reached here on Monday 20th July. In deteriorating weather we closed the coast and I eventually decided, somewhat against my better judgement, to enter Adalvik, Iceland's most north-westerly bay, immediately to the south of Stromnes. Got into the bay, but despite a F6 north-easterly blowing outside, were totally becalmed for almost 4 hours, at the mercy of a mix of tides and currents evidently at work thereabouts. By this time I had given up all thoughts of sailing to the head of the bay to anchor. As soon as some wind finally came in we scooted offshore again as fast as possible. Had a good run down the west coast of Iceland in a cold north-easterly, the seascape dominated for two days by the Snaefellsjokull, the glacier at the end of the peninsula in central west Iceland.
Sailing south under the lee of the Snaefellsjokull.
Hove-to under series drogue off south-west Iceland.
We skirted round the end of the Reykyanes Ridge that extends 40 miles off the south west tip of Iceland, with its shoals and skerries. At that point I had a 'nearly home' moment, although there was still nearly 800 miles to go. Any hopes of a fast passage back to Scotland werre soon dashed as we met constant calms and light headwinds, interspersed with the worst storm I have encountered in Mingming. We lay to Mingming's series drogue for 12 hours and, after that parted through chafe caused by a silly mistake on my part when setting it, another 5 hours under my home-made B & Q sand-bag sea anchor. Off south west Faeroes we were badly held up again with a F7 from south east that blew for a good four days. Finally arrived back at Whitehills at 0930 on the morning of Thursday 13th August, the last 800 miles having taken 20 days.
Mingming back at Whitehills harbour, with 48 days at sea showing above the waterline.
Our noon to noon daily runs totalled about 2700 miles, although we of course sailed a lot further. By far the most interesting and challenging voyage I have made, with 16 days spent inside the Arctic Circle. For once we achieved all our objectives. Mingming was, as ever, amazing, and the insulation I had put in over the winter made her incredibly comfortable, even in water at nearly zero degrees.
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MINGMING'S JESTER AZORES CHALLENGE 2008
Leaving Plymouth, with Jester herself astern
The outward leg took just under 21 days. Apart from a half gale in the Bay of Biscay, I had very favourable sailing for the first 12-13 days and thought I was on course for a fast time. However the weather always has the last say. The last 300 miles took 8 days with constant south westerlies, either 0-1 or 6-8. I was within 40 miles of Terceira for a good two days, but could make little progress against massive seas and vicious headwinds. The strong southerly set to the east of the island did not help either. The wind finally veered north, giving me a good lead into the harbour at Praia da Vitoria.
The harbour and marina at Praia da Vitoria
Looking down at Praia da Vitoria
Mingming leaves her mark in the Azores
Farewell to the Azores
After a fabulous three and a half days on the island it was time to head for home. The voyage back to Plymouth took just 16 days. Winds were F6 or more for 11 out of the 16 days, but were all favourable, hence the fast time. At one point it blew 6-7, with the odd F8 gusts, for 8 consecutive days without let-up, constantly from WNW. As ever, Mingming handled the conditions with consummate ease.
MINGMING'S NORTHERN VOYAGE 2007
Left Burnham-on-Crouch 0915 22 June. Three days later we ran into a severe gale off the N Yorks coast. This was the storm that caused the first lot of flooding across the UK. I had to sail quite aggressively to maintain position. Winds were NE backing N then NW. I had the coast to the west, Dogger Bank to the east and the shallower waters of the Humber, plus the gas rigs, to the south. Fortunately I had had enough time to get Mingming into deeper water with reasonable sea-room. Two days later, probably because of strains imposed during this storm, my top two battens broke. These were fixed with boathooks, brush handles and bits of spare wood. This patched up rig took me the well over 2000 miles. We had to ride out a less severe storm half way up the Scottish coast.
Rainbow off the East Coast
Eleven and a half days after leaving Burnham we rounded the northern tip of Unst, the most northerly island of the UK. Magical moment. Three days later we were off the east coast of the Faroes. Here we started running into strong northerly headwinds. The next day a third batten broke. More patching up. I was heading for NE Iceland but F7 northerlies kept forcing us further and further west. With the broken rig I could not sail too aggressively to windward. Between the Faroes and Iceland we had a pod of 200 plus pilot whales with us for 5-6 hours. I took some amazing video of this.
An atmospheric view of Unst, Britain's most northerly island
The consistent northerlies finally put NE Iceland and the Arctic Circle out of reach. Highest latitude reached was 63 12N, about 200 miles short of the Arctic Circle. I decided to head west towards the Vestmann Islands - SW Iceland. Friday 13 July, 21 days out from Burnham, was my day for turning back. At 0815 I was finally rewarded when the mighty Oraefajockull - the 7000' glacier on Iceland's south coast, appeared on the horizon. We were about 55 miles south of the central south coast.
Dressed for the North!
Iceland's highest glacier, the Oraefajokull, appeared low on the northern horizon
We then ran south to Rockall. The northerlies persisted, giving us nearly a week of fast sailing. We passed Rockall itself 50 miles to the west. A F7 northeasterly was blowing, with big seas - not the weather to venture onto the shallow waters of the Rockall Bank. We followed the 500 metre contour line down the west side. Then down towards Ireland. 130 miles west of Ireland we met a second pod of pilot whales, again about 200. This time the light was good for still shots.
Pilot whales 130 miles west of Ireland. Amazing!
The lows then started rolling in - five in all. The first - through Sole, was the one that caused the second round of major flooding. I did my best to dodge them, at one point spending two days holding my position in F7-8 weather about 80 miles west of the Fastnet Rock, waiting for the right moment to cross the Celtic Sea. This came with strong but benign westerlies and I crossed in two days. A final low and a good dusting south of the Lizard kept me on my toes to the end. Towards midnight on 29 July, 37 ½ days out from Burnham, we dropped anchor in Cawsand Bay, Plymouth Sound. Next day I brought Mingming in to Plymouth Yacht Haven.
Jury-rigged battens fixed with boathooks and brush handles.
A fantastic voyage. Very tough, with plenty of heavy weather and cold conditions. But the northern waters were magical. From the Shetlands to western Ireland I saw less than ten other vessels. Total distance sailed was about 2500 miles - so in time and distance it was almost identical to last year's Azores voyage. Mingming was again brilliant - an extraordinary little seaboat, always at ease in the big stuff.